Monday, 21 February 2011

To begin again

This has been a year of major changes. Over the summer I started a PhD at Cambridge. I pretty much said goodbye to climbing (and most of the rest of my life as well) out of a lack of spare time and facilities. Just before Christmas my former excuse partly vanished when the Kelsey Kerridge opened a newly refurbished wall.

I've been slowly getting back into climbing and life in general. It has taken some time to adjust to what feels like a new life. It is nice to have something familiar back. However, the old demon of my shoulder is starting to cause me some discomfort. It's back to the physio exercises at some point.

Here is a video of a couple of fun problems at the Kelsey Kerridge. Apologies for the video quality and even poorer background music.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Fossil Wall

Yesterday saw a mad dash to the Peak for a day out of London, which I have been in need of for quite some time.

Grit probably would have probably been a  better option given the abundance of easy problems but both my partner and I never get on with the stuff. We did however want to try something different and after a quick search I came across Fossil Wall.

It was a speculative choice, but having been I can highly recommend it provided you like limestone. It is situated above the A6 just outside of Bakewell.

It was great to get out for a bit and dust off the cobwebs, however I am now paying the price with an acky shoulder.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Everything and Nothing

And just when I try to walk away - I find that I can't.

The life that I had when I started this blog bears little resemblance to the one that I have now. This isn't me anymore. Even now I'm in the twilight hours of further drastic change. This interim place too shall soon be no longer. I sometimes wish that it didn't have to be so dramatic. I now look back and wonder, was it really that bad, but sifting through the debris of past few years will get me nowhere.

It's difficult to admit that I will never climb at a reasonable level again. Last weekend I went bouldering indoors a few times. I guess it was in part to say goodbye. I've always had an odd relationship with climbing and the end is no different. I am angry with climbing. I wish I could just look back and see all of the good times, cool places, achievements, but all that I see is a person struggling her hardest and never achieving anything approaching her potential. I am mad at myself for letting climbing distract me from a life that was falling apart and in desperate need of attention. No, take it all away, it was never worth it. I look over my past blog articles and feel pathetic. Angst in the form of a not even partly committed training diary, but this was never really about climbing. Actually climbing was never just about climbing. It was about a person who was lost and found something hidden behind a rock flake in North Wales, a dusty cave in California, a limestone pocket in Spain. It was a belief that had long vanished.

I've recently come to the conclusion that while hard work is no guarantee of success, it makes it more likely than not trying and it often takes much, much more than you can ever imagine.

Monday, 22 February 2010

In the Pines

Now that all the cards have been laid on the table, I never feel alone. The heaviness of it thumps down the hallway behind me. It enters every room before I do and spills over the conversation. I’m haunted by knowing how the story ends.

This blog has in some way been about giving up. Climbing for me was a distraction from a life that had otherwise ended. It served as a focus which eventually gave me a piece of myself back, but it’s what happened next which was always my goal.

Of all the aspects surrounding challenges, dealing with failure is the one that I find most difficult. Reason would dictate that I should be accustomed to it by now, but this isn’t so. In fact I feel as though it’s cumulative and gets worse with each one.

I constantly set difficult challenges for myself. I’m never happy with just getting by. Time and time again I have wished that this wasn’t the case. I don’t even know if constantly battling makes me happy. It’s just what I do. Given this, I need to be more at peace with not always achieving what I set out to do.

Last week I achieved exactly what I set out to do. I still can’t understand why the emotions of sadness and joy feel so similar. Maybe they aren’t that different.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Old Friends

With a slight flutter in my heart, I shuffle my feet, and the generous incut of the final hold comes clearly into view. With a weakened arm, I steady myself and momentarily pause. “Grab it; it’s yours” the voice in my head shouts while the rest of the world vanishes. I somehow manage to keep it together just long enough to pop and I feel my fingers grip success. The voice was right; the problem was in the bag.

It was indoors but it was my first V5 in I don’t know how long. The problem was a balancy number on a vertical wall that suited my fingers, but not my lack of technique. I decided that, on balance, climbing – even with an injury – makes sense for me right now.

The past couple of months have been rough and when viewed in the context of the year as a whole look pretty grim. Not unsurprisingly, I fell off a cliff (figuratively, not literally).

I’ve been running away for a while now. I think that I needed a bit of space but this could only go on for so long. I realised that one of the major things in my life that was missing was climbing.

My physio exercises fell by the wayside and my shoulder is no better. It’s still weak and very painful on occasion. It probably needs more rest.

I’ve always had an all or nothing approach to life. I need to have a goal and I need to feel like I am working towards it. I don’t even need to fully believe in it. I just need something. Climbing keeps me focused. It keeps me out of trouble. It’s an outlet for me that I can’t seem to replace with anything healthy.

With this in mind, I decided to climb again. I went about 5 times over the holiday break and it was very dispiriting to say the least. V1 was a massive struggle and I could only manage a few moves on harder problems.

Misguidedly, I thought that by just making the decision to climb again things would start to fall into place. I now saw climbing as yet another thing in my life in which I had some potential and that I ultimately failed at. Just what I needed. I thought about quitting. I told myself that I didn’t care anymore and I couldn’t see myself committing again. It hurt too much.

The next time I went to the wall, I learnt just how wrong all of those feelings were. I found a lovely 6a+ at Craggy 2 (my regular wall was closed for refurbishment). It was somewhat powerful and reachy (for me!), yet I got it on the second try. I remembered just what it felt like to send a problem – I remembered why I had to go back to climbing. It was something that I hadn’t felt in a long while, probably since I had my viva.

Today I managed to get up a V5 at the Arch. I’m still a million miles away from where I want to be. However it is so much better to feel like I am working towards something, even if I’m too injured to be able to climb like I used to. I am going to take a break for about a week or so and concentrate on my physio exercises, but I don’t think that I’ll be taking months at a time off again.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

No Looking Back

The only thing worse than having to do physio exercises is not being able to do them…

The current thinking is that the running, MTB and physio exercises have been a bit too much and I need a rest.

Looking back over my ever expanding ‘shoulder pain log’ in an attempt to understand the current trend, I noticed that the pain never went away. I thought I had a good period where I was able to climb with little pain. The best that I ever got was a 2-3 (on a scale of 1 – 10, with 10 being the worst) interspersed with periods of severe pain… so much for finding comfort from the past.

I don’t mind climbing with pain – I would rather climb and be in pain than not climb. It’s more the dull aching / throbbing feeling that I get afterwards just sitting on the couch that bothers me.

I miss climbing. I miss not being in pain.

I still don’t feel up for a challenge.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

One Step Forward – Ten Steps Back

Just when I thought I was making progress, I had rather a big setback with regards to my shoulder injury. All was fine until last week when I decided to walk home from work and carry my laptop for 2.5 miles in a backpack – owch. It still hasn’t recovered and I’m back to having daily pain. I don’t know if the new physio exercises are exacerbating it as well; they’re quite tough. I’m off to see the physio this Friday for his take on this.

I don’t know what I was thinking. Three medical professionals recommended surgery, but no, I thought I could beat this with physio and quickly as well. I didn’t have much choice either. I don’t have a spare ca. £6,000 lying around or three months where I can go without the use of my right arm.

Since I responded so well to physio initially, I wrongly assumed it would be smooth sailing. Given that I am partly missing a tendon, this of course was never going to be the reality and I think that in part I fooled myself into thinking it would be OK.

It’s exceptionally difficult to try something that you failed at before; particularly when it’s something that you have to put a ton of effort into and have no guarantee of things being any different.

Part of me feels like giving up the battle before I have even begun to fight. I’m tired and I’m sick of fighting.

It’s been tough. It feels like I fell off of a cliff last week and I haven’t quite recovered. I was happy to think that I was making progress, yet even there, all is not lost. I’ve kept up with running and it’s becoming slightly less painful and better still I had a ton of fun mountain biking last weekend.

Recently I was just sticking to the fireroads of Swinley forest. My lack of fitness precluded anything more adventurous. However last week we ‘discovered’ a sweet bit of singletrack and rode it over and over again until it got dark – which isn’t actually that late anymore.

Lately I’ve really been missing climbing. It didn’t bother me for a while, but now I’m starting to feel it. I think I was so caught up with work that I didn’t have time to notice. I’m even missing indoor climbing, so I know I must be desperate.

What a rubbish time of year.

Thursday, 29 October 2009


In gaining temporal distance from my thesis only now am I beginning to understand what came before. This year was a whirlwind; parts of which I will never recover from. I also made some strides; building upon it is my current challenge.

Whilst digging out my mountain biking kit, I flippantly muttered to myself ‘I would give anything to be back in shape’. After thinking about it, no, I wouldn’t give up what I fought for this year. Being as out of shape as I am it’s incredibly difficult just to think of all the work that I need to put into it, let alone actually do it. This time as well, I know that it won’t be OK. I’m broken; yet, the surgery sounds worse than the condition.

As amazing as it might sound, I’m coming on with my physio in leaps and bounds. I already aced the first set and am nearly a week into the second round with next to no pain. There is one huge caveat though; I haven’t been climbing in ages. That is where I think the trouble lies.

I’ve been trying to work on my poorly neglected cardio with a bit of mountain biking and some running (I managed 5.4k which for me is next to a miracle). I even got myself a new pair of running shoes as encouragement. I noticed that just a little bit of exercise makes such a huge difference to me. I have been sleeping better and yesterday I actually felt oddly optimistic.

Swinley Forest

For a few weeks just after my viva, I couldn’t conceive of anything more than just going to work and even that was an enormous chore, despite the fact that it was doing something I enjoyed. It was as if I lost a part of myself in the 95 pages that comprised my thesis. I was spent. I couldn’t fight anymore.

In some way I am even happy not to be climbing. I think I needed a bit of a break from it and I definitely had other things to focus on. I also think that if I go back to climbing, I need a whole new strategy. That will of course take some time to figure out.

Slowly, it’s coming back. I just wish that running didn’t hurt so much, but I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, or even possible for that matter.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Minor Progress

I’ve been trying my best to keep up my physio exercises but I had a miserable cold this week which thwarted my efforts somewhat. However, I seem to be able to dive right back into doing them. At first, they didn’t hurt, but felt horribly awkward. Now they feel more like a normal movement instead of a complete battle. I guess this is progress? I’ll take what I can get for the time being.

Oh and I’m trying my best to stop feeling sorry for myself... though I reckon this will take some time.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Finding Tuva

I’ve chickened out. I decided to try physio again.

Quite a few things led to this decision, primary amongst is that I don’t want to turn up to an interview with my arm in a sling. Additionally I don’t believe the surgery is worth it. My surgeon admitted that no matter what I do my shoulder will never be normal. I don’t know how much I can achieve through surgery.

I also worry about the surgery itself (not to mention the lack of scientific advancement from the human race). As of 2009 an ‘advanced’ surgery involves drilling a hole into healthy bone and putting in a screw to act as an anchor for a tied off tendon. It sounds medieval. I worry about developing osteoarthritis from this advanced technique not to mention a lifetime of increased pain resulting from the needless destruction of healthy issue. On the other hand, I’m probably going to be in pain from the injury anyway.

Physio and surgery aren’t mutually exclusive. I need more information on surgery and at the very least come to terms with the lack of surgical progress contributed by previous generations.

My longsuffering physiotherapist asked what my goals for physio are this time ‘round. Knowing that it can’t ‘cure’ me I said, being able to climb without severe pain would be nice, however I would settle for being able to pour a bottle of water without spilling it. I’ve lost the ability to fully control my arm.

It’s odd going back to the tedious theraband exercises. I never feel like I am doing them right. I am trying to teach myself how to move my arm with an incomplete set of tendons.

No, I’m not giving up. I was thinking that maybe where physio got me last time, able to boulder but not push it, isn’t a bad place. A lot of things changed this year including my focus. Maybe what I have is enough.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The $64,000 Question

Red circle shows my partial thickness rotator cuff tear. It's highlighted in white on account of the contrasting agent (gadolinium) migrating towards it.

And the answer is... I have a small partial thickness tear of my rotator cuff due to traumatic injury.

I'm now faced with the decision of whether to undergo surgery or not. I could try ‘activity-directed’ physiotherapy, but this did not work before. The surgeon said if it was him that he would go for the surgery.

Surgery would of course involve having to keep my arm in a sling for up to a month and no climbing for 3-6 months, however I should be back to normal in 1 year and full recovery seems likely due to my age and the size of the tear.

I'm in two minds about the surgery. With physio I had a significant reduction of pain, however I was never 'normal' and shortly after stopping, the pain came back. As pointed out by my physiotherapist, I can't do physio exercises for the rest of my life. However, I really don't want to have that long off of climbing. Equally the prospect of being in pain for the rest of my life doesn't sound appealing either. Also my tear might worsen.

Even if I stopped climbing all together, it’s highly likely that I’ll have day to day pain for a long time; possibly for the rest of my life.

I think I’m leaning more towards surgery but I need to find out more about it.